Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Stories in Their Eyes

Their eyes told their stories.  Those eyes are what I see every time I close my eyes. 

I went to Lebanon with a short-term team from my church to help with ministry to Syrian refugee children.  These are kids who have been forced to flee their country, because there is no longer any safe place for them there.  Now they live in tent cities—thousands and thousands of tents. Leaving behind their homes, many of their family members, their way of life, and their way of supporting themselves.  I wish I could communicate what I saw in their eyes. 

Some of the kids we met—like 13-year-old Akmed—have eyes that reflect a volatile, simmering anger.  They have seen things no child should ever witness. Beheadings…bombs…devastation.  No wonder they are angry!  At one of the camps we were part of, Akmed said, “I am with ISIS.’  We don’t know if he was an actual child soldier, or if that meant that his family are ISIS sympathizers.  Either way, for kids like Akmed, that anger is a prime breeding ground for terrorism.

Other kids –like 11-year-old Amaad—have moved past anger.  When you look into their eyes, there is an empty hopelessness seared into them.  That is perhaps the saddest—that they have lost hope of life being any different that it is.

But some of the kids’ eyes—like 8-year-old Lotfi—tell a different story.  Their eyes are full of light and laughter and are brimming with hope.  Those are the eyes of kids who know Jesus.  Honestly, that’s the only explanation there is—Jesus!  We went to Lotfi's home, a small cement room.  There was such joy as his dad shared the many ways that Jesus had blessed them.  Lotfi asked to pray for us, and that boy took us to church!  We who have so much were blown away by the joy of those who have so little.  But they have Jesus, and that has made all the difference.

Watching the Arab church in action was like watching the book of Acts unfold in front of us.  20 years ago the Syrians were lobbing bombs into the Bekah Valley in Lebanon, in the same place we were holding the camps.  Most Lebanese can tell you of family who were killed during that time, and as a result, hate the Syrians.  Their stories are heartbreaking tales of loss.

But the church there recognizes that the crisis in Syria and the influx of refugees into Lebanon have created a God-ordained season where they have the freedom to speak of Him in the lives of Muslims.  They take that responsibility seriously, and their ministry to them is very holistic in nature.  They feed the poor, care for the widows and orphans, love their (former) enemies, and pray for those who have persecuted them.  They help them get the medical care they need, and create community centers within the tent cities where some of the Syrian children go to school.  They have not only forgiven the Syrians, but long for them to know the love of Jesus.  They share Him with an urgency born of the realization that this opportunity may be short-lived.

What a privilege it was to come alongside that community, and be part of what they are doing.  To watch the little Muslim girls come to camp, somber and suspicious, and then let loose as the day wore on, and sing about Jesus and giggle playing games—what a blessing!  To pray for kids like Akmed, that they will remember those Christians who loved on them, fed them, shared truth, and then allow it to make a difference to them.  And to see a few of the kids from camp come to church that Sunday, and know that we were witnessing the spiritual fruit from it.

Because in the end, Jesus does not just bring hope, to kids like these or to any of us.  He IS our hope.  He is the ONLY hope of a world that is different.  Because He understands refugees.  After all, He, too was one when He and his parents were forced to flee—much like the Syrians—to avoid murder at the hands of the rulers (Matthew 2:13-15).

And Jesus longs to replace that anger and hopelessness with His light, and He wants to use us in the process.  May it be so.

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.  The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.                                                              Leviticus 33-34

 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.  And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. 

Deuteronomy 10:17-19

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’                       Matthew 25:34-36

Further reflection:

1.      What is your attitude towards refugees, whether here or abroad?

2.      Are there refugees in your area?

3.      What might God have you do to reach out and share His hope with them?

Father, You are the God who loves.  Over and over, You demonstrate Your love for us.  Not because we deserve it, or none of us would be eligible to receive it.  But because You see us not as we are, but as we could become when made new by You.  Help us to love refugees, whether here or there, the way You love them.  Without prejudice.  Without fear.  Because it is what You ask of us.  Thank You for Your patience as we lean into this truth. 

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